In light of our recent readings about and discussions of usability and digital literacy, I found the New York Times’ recent explanation of it upcoming paywall—and some of the immediate reaction to it—interesting. From a usability standpoint, it seems like the Times may have skipped that step. One of the chief complaints about the plan is how clunky (and confusing) it is. Here’s a link to the full explanation, and I’ve copied the publisher’s letter to readers below: http://www.nytimes.com/subscriptions/Multiproduct/lp0145.html
March 17, 2011
A Letter to Our Readers About Digital Subscriptions
This week marks a significant transition for The New York Times as we introduce digital subscriptions. It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform. The change will primarily affect those who are heavy consumers of the content on our Web site and on mobile applications.
This change comes in two stages. On Thursday, we rolled out digital subscriptions to our readers in Canada, which will enable us to fine-tune the customer experience before our global launch. On March 28, we will begin offering digital subscriptions in the United States and the rest of the world.
If you are a home delivery subscriber of The New York Times, you will continue to have full and free access to our news, information, opinion and the rest of our rich offerings on your computer, smartphone and tablet. International Herald Tribune subscribers will also receive free access to NYTimes.com.
If you are not a home delivery subscriber, you will have free access up to a defined reading limit. If you exceed that limit, you will be asked to become a digital subscriber.
This is how it will work, and what it means for you:
• On NYTimes.com, you can view 20 articles each month at no charge (including slide shows, videos and other features). After 20 articles, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber, with full access to our site.
• On our smartphone and tablet apps, the Top News section will remain free of charge. For access to all other sections within the apps, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber.
• The Times is offering three digital subscription packages that allow you to choose from a variety of devices (computer, smartphone, tablet). More information about these plans is available at www.nytimes.com/access.
• Again, all New York Times home delivery subscribers will receive free access to NYTimes.com and to all content on our apps. If you are a home delivery subscriber, go to http://homedelivery.nytimes.com to sign up for free access.
• Readers who come to Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. For some search engines, users will have a daily limit of free links to Times articles.
• The home page at NYTimes.com and all section fronts will remain free to browse for all users at all times.
For more information, go to www.nytimes.com/digitalfaq.
Thank you for reading The New York Times, in all its forms.
ARTHUR OCHS SULZBERGER Jr.
Publisher, The New York Times
I suppose there’s some irony at work here—a business that (sometimes) makes money by communicating with readers does a poor job of explaining to those readers why it wants to charge them for something they’ve been getting for free for a decade now. Beyond the usability example—which might be the basis for an interesting classroom exercise—I wonder, if the turn to paywalls works for mainstream media outlets, how that might affect this kind of digital literacy. Will it, for example, send consumers to less traditional (and traditionally ‘written’) sources of information, thus complicating the literacy picture even further?